Hussainatu and Hassanatu Blake have been working together way before they were born. ?We always say we have been together since the womb, which means we have been a working team all our lives,? said Hussainatu about her identical twin sister. Now they have teamed up to educate and engage the next generation of leaders through their nonprofit, Focal Point Global (FPG).
FPG uses online tools to connect youth (ages 12 to 19) from different countries. The students discuss and learn about critical issues facing their communities, and are then matched with local organizations to complete projects to tackle the problem.
FPG started out as a project itself. Now the nonprofit is celebrating its fifth anniversary. It has empowered nearly 150 global youth leaders, but the sisters are determined to make a larger impact. ?Our long-term goal has always been, and continues to be for Focal Point Global to be the go to global education non-profit organization for youth looking to make a change, and for youth looking for resources, a voice, and opportunity to learn from their peers globally.?
?Young people can build or crush economies, make or be suppressed by laws, create or destroy technology. So it is imperative that we empower them to change their communities and countries for the better,? explained the Blakes. ?They are the key to how the future of the world will look.? We believe it is our duty to be able to guide youth in the right direction, spark change by fostering partnerships through global education and technology, and encourage them to believe themselves.?
The sisters? passion from youth comes from traveling and interacting with young people who they say exude ?hope, palpable energy and endless possibilities.?
We wanted to know more about the founders and executive directors of FPG, so we talked to them about their childhood and life beyond the proverbial walls of their non-profit.
What was your childhood like? What are some of your favorite memories?
We had a great childhood. We have two other siblings (one older sister and one younger brother) and are all close in age. We grew up in a bicultural home; our father is Black American and our mother is from Cameroon. My older sister and the two of us (twins) were born in Cameroon, and my younger brother was born in the United States. Because of this, both cultures were very prevalent in our household.? You would hear pidgin english and makossa, hip-hop and jazz. We watched Roots, Chaka Zulu, and Nigerian movies.? Holidays consisted of praying to our ancestors and eating jollof rice, fufu and eru, koki and turkey, ham and macaroni and cheese. We grew up in when multiculturalism and diversity was not popular yet, so we siblings bonded on being the ?different? ones at school and in our family.
Our favorite memories would be dancing to Yondo Sister, a Congolese musician and forming a band. Our older sister was the singer, our little brother was a rapper and we were the dancers. Our smash hit was ?Go to the Ice Cream Shop,? sung when we were trying to convince our parents to get us ice cream. We also have fond memories of the Cameroonian parties my family threw at the house or the ones went to at family friends? houses.
As children and teenagers, were you aware of the social issues in your community, and if so, who educated you about them?
As kids, we were very aware of social issues. Our dad was very civic-minded and wanted us to be too. We were required to volunteer with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and different state senate and federal senate campaigns. Our mother wanted us to be aware of what was going on in Cameroon as well. Most importantly, our parents wanted us to be aware of global issues, especially since we were raised in the United States.? We were required to read international newspaper articles and magazine journals that focused on issues that impacted the African continent.? In addition, our parents exposed us to different people, cultures and events.
You have traveled, studied, lived and worked in several countries, including Namibia, South Africa, Jamaica, Dominica, Zambia and Germany. What did you learn from those countries that made you the women you are today?
Living in many places in different countries, and many times, not knowing anyone there, teaches you how to trust people, to see the good in people, and that true change starts with you no matter how old you are. Through our experiences, we have learned that there are more good people than there are bad and despite people speaking a different language, having a different culture, most people want the same things: LOVE, RESPECT, and ACCEPTANCE.
In addition to youth, what other passions do you have?
Hussainatu😕 Law and policy.? I have always wanted to be a lawyer and I have always had an interest in policy, particularly at the international level.? I have a master?s degree in International Policy and a law degree.? I believe that knowing the law and being involved in the legislative process greatly influence change in societies. I want to be involved in drafting policy and laws that empower people who often misrepresented.
Hassanatu: Global health and medicine. As long as I can remember, the need to help others feel better and be better was always something I wanted to do it my life. Having a strong mother who struggled with severe asthma attacks, I learned preventative medicine and access to quality medical resources are necessary in achieving and maintaining good health. I have a master?s in Public Health and have worked for ten years with U.S. agencies and international health companies and businesses to provide people from around the world the health education and resources they need to feel and be better.
What does work-life balance look like for you?
Work-life balance = passion for the work you do + quality time with family + good health.
How do you recharge on the weekends?
Hussainatu: ?I spend time with my husband (going to events, hiking, volunteering); catch up on sleep and talk to family; read and work out.
Hassanatu: Trying something new and fun; take some quiet time for myself; reading, sleeping, spending time with friends and catch up with family.
What are your favorite apps?
Hussainatu: Duolingo, a foreign language teaching app.? I am addicted to it.? I use it to brush up on my German and improve my French.
Hassanatu: WhatsApp. I spend most of my time away from my family and friends. So this app helps me to stay in contact to people who are near and dear to me.
What is the first site you visit every day?
Hussainatu: Focal Point Global webmail
Hassanatu: Focal Point Global website
Describe your style ? what is your go to item of clothing?
Hussainatu: Classic, sleek, elegant and laid-back chic.? I love a cute tee shirt, my favorite pair of dark jeans and my hair pulled back. You can always throw a blazer over it and a cute pair of pumps to dress it up.
Hassanatu: Usually, it?s whatever I feel that day. I tend to lean towards timeless, classic, sleek and chic pieces. But sometimes I like to spice it up with some edgy pieces. My go to outfit is a nice pair of jeans or black pants, tank/tee, favorite pumps/cute flats, a funky scarf and a clutch bag.
What is the one thing you want the world to know about your sister?
Hussainatu:? One thing that I would want the world to know about Hassa is that she is funny. I think that many people, when they meet us see the serious, intelligent and driven side of Hassa, which are all true.? However, there is a lighter side to Hassa and she makes many people laugh through her unbelievable experiences and stories.
Hassanatu: My sister is elegant and reserved but she can also be adventurous and let her ?hair down? as well. We have lots of fun together.
To learn more about the sisters, Focal Point Global and how you can get involved, visit their website, focalpointglobal.org.
Image: Courtesy Hassa and Hussa Blake